Why We Gain Weight

Just about everyone gains some weight during their lifetime.  Some gain and lose weight easily—and others don’t!  Some gain weight very slowly while others gain weight rapidly.  Everyone’s “Weight Story” is different, but there are some unifying factors in everyone’s story.

The “Stripped Down” Reason We Gain Weight

The main reason why we gain weight is pretty straightforward—we gain weight when the calories we take in as food are MORE than the calories we use up in living, breathing, moving around and exercising. We lose weight when the calories we take in as food are LESS than the calories we use up.

Put that way, it sound simple—but, of course, the true story is much more complicated than that.

The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The BMR is the sum total of all the biochemical processes that convert food into energy needed to keep your lungs expanding and contracting, your heart beating, your muscles moving and for each and every cell in your body to produce the hormones, nerve signals, and other substances that each individual cell, tissue and organ has to do in order to do its job. BMR depends on your body size and composition, your gender, and your age. The BMR also depends on how much food is converted into calories—digestion and the absorption of food requires calories as well.  Finally, your BMR depends on your level of physical activity.  While some people like to say that they have gained weight because of their metabolism—this isn’t really the complete truth, at least as far as the BMR is concerned—the BMR appears to remain relatively stable for each individual, though it can change as we age.  The two most important variables that we can change are—you guessed it—how many calories we take in as food and how many calories we burn up by physical activity.

What Else Affects Weight Gain?

First of all—weight gain (or weight loss, for that matter) is NOT just a simple discipline or will-power issue.  Behaviors can certainly affect your weight, but it is much more complicated than that. So, one of the first things to remember when thinking about your weight is “Don’t be ashamed!” It is not very helpful and it certainly won’t help you feel better about yourself and it is not likely to help you lose weight. Here are some of the factors that can affect your weight:

Genetics: The fact is, that, evolutionarily speaking, we are rewarded for more weight because storing calories as fat served us well in times of famine—and that was a trait that was selected for. In other words, those individuals who were able to store calories as fat were better able to survive the sometimes very harsh world. In addition, our more immediate family history can affect weight as well.  Studies have indicated that the children of people who starved (during the Dutch famine in WWII[1] for example or after the Biafra famine[2]) are more at risk for obesity than the children of those that did NOT starve. These effects are due to epigenetic changes in the genome that are inherited—epigenetic changes are those that can occur due to environmental and nutritional effects.

The availability and huge array of foods (or at least ingestible substances) that have been engineered to taste good, be prepared quickly and to become potentially addictive! Remember the commercial about “You can’t eat just one!”? These highly processed foods with large amounts of added sugar are also aggressively marketed—especially towards children.  Unfortunately, once children get to like these foods—perhaps even addicted to them—it gets harder to lose weight, especially as an adult!  It is quite likely that these processed, highly sweetened “foods” are part of the underlying increase in the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.[3]

The Standard American Diet (appropriately called SAD) and the typical Western diet has been well correlated to the increased rates of obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.[4] For example, when countries become more developed and adopt Western-type diets (lots of processed foods, junk foods and fast foods that are high in fats, calories, added salt and sugar), these countries also see an increased rate of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.[5]

Weight gain is a side effect of several different medications. The list of medications that can cause weight gain include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antihistamines
  • Blood pressure drugs (especially beta blockers such as metoprolol (Lopressor) and atenolol (Tenormin))
  • Diabetes drugs such as glyburide (DiaBeta) and glipizide (Glucotrol)
  • There are some diseases that can cause weight gain as well. These include:
  • Hypothyroidism where the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone
  • Cushing’s Syndrome where the adrenal glands produces too much cortisol

Adrenal insufficiency (adrenal fatigue): The adrenal gland produces hormones involved in the “Fight or Flight” response but are also involved in something mentioned earlier—the fact that evolution tends to favor individuals who can store fat for the “rainy day”.  In situations of high stress (meaning, most people) the adrenal gland will tend to stimulate the deposit of more fat—especially around the belly area.

  • Depression or altered mood
  • Fatigue (you can’t lose weight when you don’t rest or sleep well)
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex syndrome where a woman produces too much testosterone and too much insulin

Is There Any Hope?

How about a simple answer to that question—YES!  There is hope!  Talk to your physician, nutrition counselor, trainer or other health care professional about your unique situation.  If medications are the problem, see if you can switch to another medication that may work as well without the weight gain side effect.  Start changing your diet if you need to—start including whole foods, including whole grains, lean meat, poultry, fish, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds and decrease the amounts of processed or prepared foods. Skip the salt and the added sugars, and lower the amount of red meat or dairy (except for yogurt—the gut bacteria in yogurt help your immune system AND can help you lose weight) that you eat.  Drink plenty of water as well.  Rest! Finally, look to see how best to increase the level of daily exercise and physical activity you do.  And—remember to be patient.  Healthy weight loss often means slow weight loss—be patient and stick to it!

Call us today, we will help you calculate your specific BMR and together we can guide you through the journey towards a healthy new you!  786-360-6355



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